This seems like as good a place as any to talk about one’s Sherlockian influences – beyond Conan Doyle, of course. I first discovered Michael Kurland in the 1970s. I’d picked up a worn copy of a book called Transmission Error all about a teleportation gone wrong. It was one of my first experiences of postmodernism in fiction, being poignant, funny and surreal all at the same time.
When that sort of thing happens the name sticks in your memory, and I next saw Michael’s name attached to Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy. For those who are unaware, Lord Darcy was a sort of fantasy Sherlock Holmes from an alternate, magic-using Earth. Created in a novel (Too Many Magicians) and featuring in two short story collections (Murder and Magic and Lord Darcy Investigates) by Randall Garrett. The baton passed to Michael in the late 1980s when, after a bout of encephalitis put him into a coma for eight years, Garrett died. He wrote two Darcy novels, Ten Little Wizards and A Study in Sorcery, and it was the latter book that bought him back to my attention, introducing me to Darcy and, very soon after, to Kurland’s earlier novel, a Holmes pastiche starring Professor Moriarty – The Infernal Device. Its sequels – and other Holmes-related books – appeared sporadically over the years, and as they only appeared to be available in the US, I was aware of them but never succumbed until, to my surprise, all four of his Moriarty novels were acquired and published by Titan in 2014.
Kurland inverts Moriarty, making him the central character of his adventures – a mirror of the Holmes we know and love with his own amanuensis in the form of the journalist, Benjamin Barrett. Consulting criminal, scientist and investigator whose past history with an interfering, paranoid Holmes sparks a series of fast-paced adventures which cast the not-quite-so-evil professor in a very different light.
Subversive, knowing, and thoroughly steampunk before K W Jeter (and later Cassandra Clare and Philip Reeve – you can’t keep a good title down) ‘pinched’ the title and coined the phrase, it was perhaps my hazy recollection of Kurland’s first Moriarty novel that drew me towards my own interpretation of the professor (not quite so amenable, but just as radical). I have a lot of catching up to do.
The Moriarty Novels:
- The Infernal Device (1978)
- Death by Gaslight (1982)
- The Great Game (2001)
- The Empress of India (2006)
- Who Thinks Evil? (2014)